“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
God’s love moves outward. That’s its nature. It exists for the benefit of the other, whoever the other happens to be. If we think we have love for someone else, but that love is not primarily oriented toward seeing them advanced in the direction of who God made them to be regardless of any benefits such a commitment might have for us, what we have is something other than love. It might be strong, positive feelings, but it isn’t love.
This outward trajectory of love, this existing for the sake of the other is a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures. And, given that the Scriptures are God’s primary tool of self-revelation and this other-oriented-ness is fundamental to His character, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
When God first reached out to Abram in Genesis 12, His promise was to bless Abram so that he could then be a blessing to others. God was going to reach into Abram’s life to do great and wonderful things…as a way to reach through him for the sake of others. Israel was called over and over to live the life outlined by the Law so that other nations would see what they were doing and be drawn to God because of it. Jesus mentored and discipled the Twelve in order to leave them empowered to minister the Gospel of the kingdom to others.
We even see this outward drive in what might otherwise seem to be entirely practical advice. Paul here in Ephesians 4 exhorts people to not take from others, but to work hard and earn their own way. Now, the political conservative might want to stop there and celebrate individualism, self-empowerment, and a refusal to rely on others (especially the government), but Paul doesn’t stop there. The reason for this effort on the part of one person is so that “he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
If God has blessed you, the reason for this blessing is outward in its focus and trajectory. Just like with Abram, He wants to reach into your life so that He can reach through it to accomplish kingdom good in the life of someone else.
And think about what a wondrous idea this really is. The God who created all we see and don’t, who has no limitations on the resources available to Him, who is unparalleled in power and wisdom, who can literally make something out of nothing, has a plan to bless the person next to you that intimately involves you. You are God’s plan A to bring Gospel good into the life of your neighbor.
Here’s what you do with this: First, take stock of the blessings God has given you. What are the ways He has equipped and empowered you? It could be with material resources, yes, but it could also be with knowledge or experience or wisdom or talents or any number of other intangible blessings. What has God given you that most of the people around you don’t have?
Second, take inventory of who lies within your sphere of influence. Who is it that God has brought within your ability to impact? And don’t take the cop out that you aren’t having an impact on anybody. You are. Who is the question, not whether.
Third, carefully reflect on how these people and your God-given resources (keeping well in mind that all of your resources are God-given) intersect. What lacks do they have that you are specifically suited to supply? What holes are in your life that they can fill? As you find these points of intersection, you will begin to find the places where God wants to be a blessing through you.
Fourth, begin taking intentional steps toward being this blessing. Start in small places and ask God to give you eyes to see and faith to handle bigger ones from there. The transformation won’t happen overnight, but it will come.
As Paul affirms here, if you are primarily relying on others, you need to step up and take back responsibility for your life. Work hard for the things you have. Don’t be a financial burden to anyone as far as it depends on you. But, pursue this goal with the higher one in mind of being able to impact others. If you know God’s love, this is the direction it is taking you.